Sunday, October 19, 2008

Obama forces the pace of change in Dixieland.

There's a fascinating article in today's Observer about the impact Barack Obama is having in the southern states, in what is normally regarded as the Republican homeland, with stories emerging that many of these states might be about to vote Democratic for the first time since the 1960's.

In a potentially momentous shift, Obama's campaign to become America's first black President has made remarkable strides in the South. He has built up a firm lead in Virginia, which has not voted for a Democrat for President since 1964. He has opened up a narrow gap in North Carolina and is ahead in Florida. Across Dixieland, from Texas to Kentucky to the Carolina coast, Republican stalwarts are running up against a surging tide of Democratic party support.

Obama's campaign has opened scores of offices across the South, often outnumbering the Republicans on their own turf. John McCain and his running mate, Sarah Palin, have been forced to campaign here, diverting them from the battleground of Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Obama's performance in the South could mark a new phase in American politics. The South has been the modern Republican party's spiritual home. The social conservative revolution was born here. It is the land of the Bible Belt and social values. Yet the Republican party is facing a serious challenge here for the first time since Bill Clinton.

And Obama is no southern white conservative governor like Clinton. He is a liberal black senator from Chicago. If he wins even three of the traditionally Republican southern states, it might be heralded as the start of something almost revolutionary.

Because, of course, the belief that the South automatically belongs to the Republicans is based on the assumption that no new blood is flowing into that region, which is simply wrong. Forty years is a long time in politics and the article says there is every indication that parts of the south are changing.

This 'new South' is found everywhere in the region. It has brought in hundreds of thousands of newcomers, often highly educated professionals who have little knowledge of or sympathy with the area's complicated political history. That is especially true in a place like northern Virginia. The area lies close to Washington and is now a booming suburb of the nation's capital. Its population has exploded and it leans heavily Democratic, dragging the rest of Virginia steadily away from the Republican party. Obama has a staggering 8 per cent lead in the state, which was once seen as solid John McCain territory.

And Obama is working hard at pressing these potential gains:

But that lead has not happened by a simple accident of demography. The Obama campaign has focused hard on winning its gains. Flush with huge amounts of cash, it has poured money and resources into southern states, opening branch offices in places usually ignored by a Democratic presidential campaign. It has 44 of them in Virginia alone. Obama has outspent McCain by a factor of eight to one in North Carolina and by three to one in Florida and Virginia. The Obama 'ground game' is large, highly motivated and very effective. 'The organisation that has been built up is very impressive,' said Professor Jeri Cabot, a political scientist at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. Obama has in the end benefited hugely from his long primary fight with Hillary Clinton. The cross-country battle meant that he built a high profile and organisation in every state in the country. 'Obama owes the Clintons dinner and a bottle of wine. They really helped him,' said Bowler.

A key element in Obama's success in the South has been the huge voter drive among college students and black people that began in the primaries and has continued in the presidential run-up. This is aimed at driving up the turnout in groups that have traditionally had a poor record of turning up on election day. That is especially true of the South's black population, which is an almost monolithic Democratic voting bloc in a region that seemed equally monolithically Republican in presidential elections. Now blacks are expected to turn out in record numbers for Obama. In Georgia, they made up almost 40 per cent of the 369,000 early voters in the state, despite representing only 29 per cent of the electorate. McCain's double-digit lead in the state is now down to just 7 per cent.

I love the fact that Obama is pushing McCain hard everywhere, even in the South, and the fact that the South's black population is feeling so energised by his candidacy is a sure sign that, come election day, they will turn out in huge numbers. Couple that with Obama's registration drives and the large amount of youngsters that he is bringing into the process and we really do have the potential for upset in the South come election day.

Click title for full article.

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